Every budget cycle offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at our priorities. A budget is an articulation of our vision, a roadmap if you will – and in the case of this particular budget, we are embracing a shift towards an investment in capital projects that is balanced with investment in human and social capital – because a healthy city needs both; not just to survive, but to thrive.
Traditional capital investment is the foundation, the literal underpinning, the cornerstone of our very existence as a city. Our streets and our streetscapes. Our recreation centers. Equipment to fight fires, to mow parks and maintain green spaces; funds for concrete, gravel, asphalt…and much much more.
But our investments in buildings, equipment, streets, water pipes and other traditional capital needs must be balanced with our investment in human and social capital – our people need to move forward at the same pace that we are moving forward with development projects. It doesn’t matter if we are a city that is filled with the most beautiful buildings, the most attractive waterways, the best-kept parks – if our people continue to live in high concentrations of poverty … if our unemployment rates in some neighborhoods remain shockingly high … if our children continue to be mis-educated … if we continue to lose our youth to the streets.
The issues that Rochester faces are larger than one budget can remedy. Crafting the 2014-15 budget has been a rigorous exercise, involving many people who have worked through an extensive process to find the right balance that allows us to deliver the essential services that the citizens of Rochester rely upon, while continuing to invest in the things that will propel our City forward. This budget is framed around a set of strategic investment areas for this Administration – Neighborhood Development, Economic Development, Children and Families, Education and Job Opportunities, Arts and Cultural Vitality, and Public Safety; in other words, an investment in people, an investment in traditional brick and mortar public works projects, an investment in business, and in safety.
The 2014-15 budget realigns a set of existing programs, including PRIME and the Summer of Opportunity Program, to create a more synergistic program called Operation Transformation Rochester which will serve city youth and adults by offering five comprehensive programs geared towards education, vocation and employment.
It includes investment in infrastructure; and funding to connect, revitalize and beautify neighborhoods across the city by accelerating the Bulls Head project to connect it to the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood, implementing plans to unite the Marketview Heights neighborhood with the Neighborhood of the Arts to make it more cohesive and pedestrian-friendly.
We will continue our Focused Investment Strategy which began in 2007; and provide funding to our Neighborhood Service Centers to support innovative neighborhood-based programs and initiatives. We will also work to keep our neighborhood commercial corridors clean through a strategic joint partnership between our Department of Environmental Services and CEO – a company helping to reintegrate previously incarcerated individuals into the community.
As we shift to new priorities, we remain committed to major projects currently underway such as the Inner Loop East Transformation Project and and Midtown.
The Inner Loop East Transformation project will offer us nearly 9 acres of newly developable land. Not only does this land unite neighborhoods to Downtown but it will raise local tax revenues, create jobs and generate private investment.
We will continue to support the Midtown Project, which brings energy and new vitality to downtown. We look forward to hosting fun and exciting entertainment experiences that draw people throughout the region to “The City of the Arts.” From the Jazz Fest to the Fringe Fest to the Clarissa Street Reunion to the Parties in Park; no city in upstate New York matches what we have; and we recognize that an investment in city-sponsored arts and cultural events generates more than vitality and enjoyment – it drives economic activity.
Public safety is of utmost importance to this Administration. By returning to a community policing model, we will develop lasting relationships with the people we serve, increase the police presence in our neighborhoods and in downtown. Maintaining a complement of police officers and fire fighters that can effectively serve our people is critically important; thus, this budget includes funds for the training of two new classes of recruits – one for police and one for fire.
We continue to carry forward our practice of being good fiscal stewards which has been recognized by the NYS Office of the Comptroller, Moody’s and Standards and Poor’s. But the challenges we face grow more and more difficult every year. We are very grateful to New York State for the $6 million increase in unrestricted aid that we received this year, but even that amount does not take care of the structural financial problems we face. We call for a more balanced approach to AIM Aid distribution, and I will continue to be a strong voice in Albany for an equitable formula that works for Rochester.
Our community has significant needs, as was outlined in the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s poverty report, released last winter. In response, this Administration is stepping up to the challenge and making a fundamental shift to balance our investment in human and social capital with our investment in capital infrastructure. As our priorities shift and realign, we will continue to work aggressively to cultivate more innovative ideas, new pathways of engagement, new partnerships and opportunities to raise revenue. I truly appreciate my team for working tirelessly to prepare this budget. I know there were some sleepless nights – and I thank you. Your expertise, candor, insights and passion for our City is priceless.
Many have said that in order to live a healthy life, you have to find balance. The same can be said for a healthy city. With this budget, we bring a sensible balance – one with thoughtful consideration and one that makes fiscally prudent strategic investments that we will propel our people and our stakeholders to a more prosperous future.